From Self-Seduction, Indentured Servitude
Epistle 18. Posted on 2019-04-29.
Addiction is a disposition relative to a category of objects in which those objects are overvalued, and this relative disposition has duration, like a habit. As long as a person has this addiction, or is disposed relative to this category of objects, the addiction necessarily generates an impulse toward such an object, given any suitable stimulus, real or imagined.
In both medicine and the mental health industry, an addiction is defined instead in terms of negative consequences. One is regarded as an addict when the addiction has negative consequences such as negatively affecting one’s physiology, life, or someone else. But here, the condition is an enduring and relative disposition that is defined with respect to both an impulse and judgments that involve contradictions. Addiction is both caused and perpetuated by unreasonable judgments.
Let us begin by considering addiction with respect to judgment. Consider the following representation:
I do not have something, and I desire to have it.
This is a conjunction of two simple propositions: a natural proposition and an ethical proposition.
- ◊ A natural proposition describes the state of things in nature.
- ◊ An ethical proposition describes one’s state of mind when it is disposed relative to the state of things in nature.
In this case, the natural proposition is “I do not have something.” The proposed state of things in nature is that something is absent. The ethical proposition is “I desire to have it.” The proposed state of mind is disposed relative to a thing such that one craves it.
The conjunction of these two propositions involves a contradiction, because the addict desires nature to be other than it is. There is a discrepancy between nature and being disposed relative to nature, between an object being absent and desiring that object, or craving it. While this desire or craving is unfulfilled, anxiety is experienced. Physical symptoms such as withdrawal may also be experienced, but the focus here is on judgment.
Contradictions do not exist in nature, and occur only in one’s misunderstanding of nature or one’s will with respect to nature. In a proposition that involves a contradiction, it is conceptually impossible for both of its two contradictories to be true; one must be false. It is the false proposition that is unreasonable. When attempting to overcome addiction, look first for the ethical proposition to be the unreasonable proposition.
As an example, feening Fiona hasn’t had a cigarette in an hour, has a small headache, and has just realized that she is out of cigarettes. She does not have a cigarette, and desires to have one. Her disposition relative to cigarettes is unreasonable, because she desires nature to be not as it is, but to her liking — such that it suits her, as if the cosmos exists just to please our feening Fiona.
To understand why the ethical proposition is culpable, it is decomposed further:
I do not have something, it is bad that I do not have that thing, and I desire to have it.
This example is a conjunction of three simple propositions. It consists of a natural proposition followed by two ethical propositions. The first ethical proposition is referred to as an evaluative proposition, and the second ethical proposition is referred to as a relative proposition.
- ◊ An evaluative proposition is an ethical proposition that assigns value or disvalue to a state of nature.
- ◊ A relative proposition is an ethical proposition that describes being disposed relative to the state of things in nature, without evaluating the state of things in nature.
Both of these ethical propositions are unreasonable. The evaluative proposition is unreasonable for assigning disvalue to the absence of something, and the relative proposition is unreasonable for desiring nature to be different than it is, for having an unreasonable disposition relative to that thing.
In everyday life, it seems reasonable that it is bad for something to be desired and yet absent, but seems is the operative word. In philosophical counseling, the unreasonableness of these particular propositions will be demonstrated, clearly.
From Greed, Addiction
When most people hear the word addiction, drugs and alcohol usually come to mind first. But nearly everyone has experienced addiction in some form or another. Many people are addicted to alcohol, caffeine, careers, conflicts, controlling others, empowerment, escaping responsibilities, food, gambling, getting away with things, ice cream, indulging emotions, people, pleasure, sex, shopping, superiority, tobacco, thrills, the Internet, or wealth. And you know I’ve only scratched the surface.
When most people hear the word greed, money usually comes to mind first. Addiction relates to greed, though few consider it this way. An addict is compelled to pursue an object of addiction, just as the greedy or avaricious person is compelled to pursue an object of desire.
Every addiction begins as greed. Both greed and addiction are characterized by being disposed relative to a category of objects in which those objects are overvalued. Addiction is greed that has been indulged to the extent that a condition is formed, that a habit has developed. Put another way, the disposition relative to the category of objects has acquired duration. Addiction, then, is a reinforced or hardened form of greed. The Stoics would have regarded the difference that I am emphasizing as the difference between an infirmity and a sickness, where an infirmity is weak or non-necessary and a sickness has the strength of necessity. Given an appropriate stimulus, an addict necessarily experiences the impulse toward the object, whereas one who is merely greedy may or may not. An addict may have been described as having a fondness or love (Greek: philia) for the object, though it is an unreasonable fondness.
This is my own interpretation, that the way we refer today to addiction corresponds to an ancient regard for a hardened and enduring greed, or necessary greed; it is greed to the point of sickness. Alas we have a definition: addiction is necessary greed.
From Self-Seduction, Indentured Servitude
Historically, the word “addiction” may have derived from the Roman name: Addictus. Plautus (c. 254 – 184 BC), a Roman playwright, wrote a play entitled Addictus, about a slave named Addictus who was set free, but who was so used to his fetters that he chose to retain his chains while he wandered freely. An addictus was a debtor who became enslaved legally to their creditor — they became an indentured servant.
Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65) later referred to men who are libidini addictos, translated as being “too fond of pleasure” (Epistle CXXIV). But libidini addictos is better translated as “enslaved to their lusts.”
Every addict is certainly an indentured servant. This servitude is freely entered into as a particular kind of bondage in which the slave’s peace of mind has been bound to the object of addiction. Each addict is self-seduced into their fetters, where “seduced” literally means led astray in Latin. Each addict was self-seduced by unreasonable judgments. For the sake of brevity, the concepts of freedom and slavery will be left to another discussion.
Each impulse that is caused by addiction may be described as having two logical causes: a principal cause and a proximate cause. The addiction itself is represented in the relative proposition, and it is a principal cause of the impulse. The stimulus is represented in the evaluative proposition, and it is a proximate cause of that same impulse. The principal cause has more explanatory power with respect to any such impulse because it has duration, and the proximate cause has less duration.
If feening Fiona has smoked for several years, her addiction has years of duration as a condition, as an unreasonable disposition relative to cigarettes. Her latest cigarette has only a few minutes of duration, and served both to trigger and reveal her addiction. Anything that triggers her addiction is a proximate cause of generating such an impulse, but the real culprit is the addiction, her own disposition relative to cigarettes, rather than any cigarette itself.
Since the impulse is contrary to nature rather than in accord with nature, and since all suffering is contrary to nature, the lesson is that the source of suffering is the addiction, one’s own disposition, not the object of addiction. While feening Fiona suffers at the thought of a cigarette when she is out, a non-smoker would not suffer at the thought of not having a cigarette. Thus, logical causality suggests that the addiction is far more blameworthy for generating the addictive impulse than the stimulus. This may also suggest a strategy of where to focus effort; avoiding the stimulus is much less effective than weakening the addiction. And since the addiction is internal only, caused by unreasonable judgments, and sustained with unreasonable judgments, the best weapon to weaken it consists of reasonable judgments.
Reasonable judgment is the only thing standing between the addict and the object of addiction. Depending on the addiction, medication may ease symptoms, temporarily weakening the relative disposition. The addiction may also be weakened by preventing the availability of the overvalued object for a duration, if possible. Although these may be helpful strategies, reasonable judgment is necessary longterm to weaken the addiction.
The problem has now been laid out. In philosophical counseling, the goal in overcoming addiction is to effect a change in perspective, so that the addict no longer values that category of objects. People desire only that which is evaluated as desirable. The other paramount pursuit is to weaken the condition, the addiction.
It is necessary to change one’s perspective, and this may be difficult to accomplish. Formal reason (deductive logic) is used to demonstrate the unreasonableness of the evaluative proposition. This proposition involves concepts, which are developed from experience; consequently, these demonstrations extend through several related concepts, and potentially numerous experiences, all of which need to be re-evaluated. Much may be accomplished quickly, but to completely change this perspective requires effort, devotion, and patience. After some time, it may seem like one has been merely dunking a stainless steel chain in water, hoping that it will rust, but unwavering dedication is what wins the day.
The most difficult part is weakening the addiction. Each time the evaluative judgment is denied sincerely — rather than merely verbally — and each time the desire is resisted, that desire is weakened. Each time one indulges one’s desire, it grows stronger. The chains of addiction are dynamic, becoming thicker and shorter with each indulgence due to unreasonable judgment, or becoming thinner and longer with each resistance due to reasonable judgment. Addiction is a version of Tug of War in which the size of the opposing team changes as a result of the effectiveness of your team of one, and you are bound to the dynamic chain. Whenever you exercise reasonable judgment, an opponent is kicked off the team and the chain weakens. But, whenever you indulge unreasonable judgment, an opponent is added to their team and the chain strengthens. This game begins with a chain too thick to grasp, and you must pull against an army. Although you must tug without tiring, it is not your strength but reasonable judgment that leads to victory. Each round culminates either in resistance or indulgence, and each round counts. Feening Fiona sighs.
The addiction, the relative disposition, can be weakened but never destroyed. Even if you remove the shackles of addiction, the scars of bondage will remain on your arms. Do not dismay over your latest scars, because scars are useful, and you already have plenty. You already have numerous dispositions relative to objects that require struggles throughout your life. Hunger is one such example. You will never be able to destroy hunger, and can only stave it off for a while. Done optimally, one barely satiates the beast. As you see, life is struggle. This particular addiction just happens to be part of your struggles. It has joined the list.
You must discover and then prefer a different kind of pleasure. You must prefer the pleasure of barely satiating hunger over the pleasure of consumption, for example. There is great satisfaction in denying an unreasonable desire. In this case, it is the pleasure of refusing to chain yourself to something, of becoming aware of a trap before it is sprung, and the joy that you were not caught. Ultimately, it is the joy of being unfettered, and freedom is a much better high than slavery.
Resisting the unreasonable desire is necessary to overcome addiction, but it is not sufficient. Only good reasoning is both necessary and sufficient. Anyone who does not change their perspective regarding the evaluative proposition will lose the war, even if — and especially after — enough battles have been won. Eventually, your will falters, because vigor is finite, you have a dwindling supply of valor, and you still misvalue the anchor at the other end of the chain. Only when the evaluation changes, completely and sincerely, does the addiction have something to fear.
If you suffer from addiction and would like some help, I am only a phone call away. You don’t have to feel like the figure painted by Andrew Litten in “Sudden Involuntary Chemical Withdrawal” (2016), because this kind of slavery is voluntary. Together, we will write the sequel based on your life, entitled Addictus Unchained.
Vale (pronounced WAH-lay is Latin for “Farewell”),
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